PORTLAND – Genetically modified sugar beets from two fields in Southern Oregon’s Jackson County were destroyed this month in what the FBI called “economic sabotage.”
The agency said in a statement Thursday that about 1,000 sugar beet plants were destroyed on June 8, and more than 5,000 plants were destroyed on a different plot three nights later.
Both are owned by a Swiss-based company, Sygenta, the agency said. Calls to the company were not immediately returned.
The statement called the losses significant but said the agency wouldn’t release damage estimates “due to the needs of the investigation.”
FBI spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele wouldn’t say how the crops were destroyed.
“We’re not commenting on the specifics because we don’t want to encourage copycats,” she said.
No arrests have been made, she said.
Genetic engineering is an issue in Jackson County, where growers of organic crops such as sugar beets and alfalfa say they want to guard against cross-pollination.
A vote is scheduled in May 2014 on a measure to bar genetically modified crops in the county, except for research. It calls for county inspection and would allow citizen lawsuits. A message left with the sponsoring group, GMO Free Jackson County, was not immediately returned.
The Legislature is considering a bill to pre-empt such local regulation. The Senate has approved it, 17-12, and it’s currently in the House Rules Committee as the Legislature nears its target date for adjournment.
A group of advocates for biotechnology, Oregonians for Food and Shelter, offered a $10,000 reward for information about the Jackson County case.
Scott Dahlman, executive director, called the destruction disturbing and said it was the first instance of destruction of genetically engineered plants in the state.
Oregon sugar beets are primarily a seed crop, providing much of the U.S. supply, he said.
The group lists representatives of timber, agricultural and chemical interests on its board, including Syngenta.
Dahlman said the group advocates for safe use of pesticides, fertilizer and biotechnology.